A pipeline in western North Dakota has leaked approximately 176,000 gallons of crude oil after what a company spokeswoman said was caused by hillside erosion, spilling about 130,000 gallons into the Ash Coulee Creek, which flows into the Little Missouri River.
The spill was first discovered by a landowner on Monday, Dec. 5, 16 miles northwest of Belfield, N.D., and has since leaked five miles downstream from its entry point in the creek, but did not reach the river.
According to North Dakota Health Department environmental investigator Bill Suess, 37,000 gallons of oil has been recovered as of Sunday and the rest is contained. No human drinking water was contaminated, although cattle use the creek as a source and two have since been found dead in the area.
“It’s going to take some time,” Suess said of the recovery effort. “Obviously there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring.”
The Ash Coulee Creek reportedly froze over since the spill occurred last week, trapping some oil below the ice.
This is the 37th known spill caused by a True Oil LLC owned pipeline in the past 10 years. The Wyoming-based company has been fined over $537,000 in that time period, of which it has paid less than three-quarters of the total.
The oil transport system in question is known as the Belle Fourche Pipeline, originating from western North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation, part of the Williston Basin which encompasses an area stretching from southern Saskatchewan, Canada, over to eastern Montana and down through central South Dakota.
Belle Fourche connects production facilities in the oil-rich region — producing about 1 million barrels of oil per day — to Guernsey, Wyo., an oil hub that feeds other refineries throughout the Mountain West, including in Salt Lake City, Denver and Cheyenne, Wyo.
Although spilling the equivalent of 4,200 barrels of unrefined oil is a significant environmental hazard, it pales in comparison to the rupture of a Tesoro Logistics-owned pipeline in 2013, when 840,000 gallons leaked into a wheat field in Tioga, N.D.
In early December, new North Dakota state regulations governing oil pipeline operators were passed to protect against future spills, but the rules don’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017. The section of the Belle Fourche Pipeline that leaked had originally been built in the 1980s, but was replaced without state inspection in 2012.
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